Friedman: Western Europe sends Israel message it can’t ignore

The decision by three nations to endorse a Palestinian state won’t move Israelis. It will move others.

By Thomas L. Friedman / The New York Times

The decision by Spain, Norway and Ireland on Wednesday to recognize an independent Palestinian state marks the latest brick in the wall of rejection being built around Israel’s current far-right government, which is asking the world to let it destroy Hamas in the Gaza Strip while refusing to work on a new future with non-Hamas Palestinians.

More than 140 countries and the Holy See have recognized the right of Palestinians to have a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem. What is noteworthy about this move, though, is that major Western European countries, and the U.S., had resisted going there, arguing that peace should be worked out between the two parties. Until today.

My focus is always on the practical: Will these recognitions of a nonexistent Palestinian state with undefined borders lead to the only sustainable solution — a real-life peace between two states for two indigenous communities — Jews and Palestinians? The answer is yes and no.

In the short-term, these diplomatic recognitions from fellow democracies will not move the Israeli public, said Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute. In the wake of the horrific murders, rapes and kidnappings perpetrated by Hamas on Oct. 7, he said, Europeans telling Israel that it must accept a Palestinian state — “without even mentioning that it must be demilitarized or any obligations on the part of Palestinians to reject Hamas” — will be “rejected” by the Israeli silent majority.

In the long-term, though, it is precisely these kinds of diplomatic shocks that could lead the opposition leaders in Israel to finally escape from the gravitational pull of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who dominates what is or is not permissible to say on this subject — and start calling for two states on terms Israel can live with. One can already see signs of that.

If that does not transpire, though, Israel is heading for a world of hurt. These recognitions of a Palestinian state by European nations “are a huge straw in the wind, that will grow into a hurricane if Israel does not change course,” said Craig Charney, a pollster who was a member of Nelson Mandela’s polling team in the 1990s.

Charney explained that the isolation of South Africa’s apartheid regime started with a voluntary arms embargo in the 1960s, which after the Soweto uprising morphed in the 1970s into a formal U.N. arms embargo, which grew into a popular cause on campuses and in boardrooms in the early 1980s, which grew into a broader economic, military and travel embargo in the mid-1980s — until two great leaders, Mandela and F.W. de Klerk, finally emerged to end apartheid. “But it was a very painful journey,” he said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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